Take a break from the holiday hubbub and spend a few minutes listening to In Terra Pax (“And on earth, peace”), the beautiful Christmas cantata by English composer Gerald Finzi (1901-1956). You might be reminded of the lush, layered string writing of Ralph Vaughan Williams. There are also moments in the piece which may have influenced John Rutter. Get a detailed introduction of the piece here and here.
Written in 1954, this was one of Finzi’s last pieces. The opening motive was inspired by English church bells:
Finzi sets part of Robert Bridges’s poem, Noel: Christmas Eve 1913:
A frosty Christmas Eve when the stars were shining
Fared I forth alone where westward falls the hill,
And from many a village in the water’d valley
Distant music reach’d me peals of bells aringing:
The constellated sounds ran sprinkling on earth’s floor
As the dark vault above with stars was spangled o’er.
Then sped my thoughts to keep that first Christmas of all
When the shepherds watching by their folds ere the dawn
Heard music in the fields and marveling could not tell
Whether it were angels or the bright stars singing.
Now blessed be the tow’rs that crown England so fair
That stand up strong in prayer unto God for our souls
Blessed be their founders (said I) an’ our country folk
Who are ringing for Christ in the belfries to-night
With arms lifted to clutch the rattling ropes that race
Into the dark above and the mad romping din.
But to me heard afar it was starry music
Angels’ song, comforting as the comfort of Christ
When he spake tenderly to his sorrowful flock:
The old words came to me by the riches of time
Mellow’d and transfigured as I stood on the hill
Heark’ning in the aspect of th’ eternal silence.
Elegy for Violin and Piano, Op. 22
As a bonus, here is Daniel Hope playing Finzi’s Elegy for Violin and Piano: